First Time – Film Making

I made a film called ‘Loss and Connection’ last year.   It was a program with the ACH group, called ‘Good Lives on film’

The link is here.

Last week I did a radio interview with Fiona from ACH, about making the film.  My interview starts at 11.20mins.  And Ross Womersley from SACOSS spoke about it after some music at 32.29mins.

I wrote this little story after the ‘red carpet night’ when the films from the course were shown at the Mercury Theatre.


I stand in the spotlight looking out through a haze

Foggy day.  Dust specked aura of bright light night

Who do you address when you cannot see the audience?

I’d never thought about it; never expected to be here myself.

A platform a microphone and no one to stop me

Surely the chandelier will crash from on high

But it is the friendly ghosts who stand with me now


I’m speaking to and for the Great Unknown; those who’ve gone before

And those who are yet to come

And I speak to the unknown people out there and my friends

Fellow film makers and those who care about what we are doing.

Some have come for the entertainment

No one expects a political speech, except those who know me.


I’m wearing blue; my mother dressed me in sky blue

People said it suited me; blue of the blues

I don’t wear it often anymore

But tonight I’m swimming in an ocean of unkowns

Comforted in the waters of the womb

Strength and endurance from my days as a swimmer

Stroking alone for hours philosophising not socialising

Alone is what I know well.  So I speak from the deep.

Seeds and shells around my neck

I connect to the land that nurtures and the water that contains

Never in my life before have I selected clothes for an event

Or expected to find in my wardrobe something ‘just right’

And I feel OK.  Sixty-seven years preparing for today

I belong in my skin.  I reside within.  And things can only get better.


I say ‘I came with no experience as a film maker’ and think or even as a member of an audience

‘And I have never told my story’ I continue

‘As an adult adopted at birth, I have carried my mother’s shame and the secrets and lies of my life.’

Nothing descends from on high and I continue somehow

I wish I’d asked someone to record this.  I think only of behaving responsibly

Don’t say ‘adoption is a life sentence’.  Don’t say what is in the film

Maybe I say ‘when the doctor asks,  there’s no medical history; no history at all.


I look to Fiona at the dais and she asks about my group

‘Ah, the ad break’, I think

‘IdentityRites’ and I spell out r-i-t-e-s and add dot org

Everyone speaks this funny language now.  I move to hand back the microphone.

But forces rally around me within me and I add

‘in our name we express concern for all other false identities

Created for donor conceived people and through surrogacy arrangements.

And in a moment of passion I add ‘if we have learnt anything from adoptees

We can expect children born through surrogacy arrangements will have the hardest time of all’.

There! I did it! And I hand back the microphone.


My film shows and the job is complete.  My film is different, my life is different.  I will never again be my mothers’ secret drowning in their lives’  lies.


Later someone from the audience tells me she’s making a film on egg donation and I ask if she has seen the film ‘eggsploitation’.  I have an ally from an unexpected source.

Another woman tells me now she understands better an elderly friend who was adopted and they look forward to showing her the film.

Surrounded by friends and others who have paid me the respect of honouring my journey.  The first time in my life I’m proud of an achievement and having accepted the help of others to get here.

I am not alone.  I am truly happy.  I celebrate with friends.


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P1050082The elephant is no longer in the room.  She’s on the south bank of the River Torrens between the University footbridge and the Zoo.  Her solid grey-black form descended slowly through the trees, rocking gently like a cradle in the wind, and those of us there to witness the birth prayed that when the wind blows the boughs do not break.  The delivery proceeded slowly and painfully with the help of instruments and a turn to present a different face forwards and was eventually successful thanks to lots of patience, a pair of midwives, lots of handlers, an almighty crane, orange bands and heavy metal chains.


The day started with the sun rising over the hills and fading the full moon high into the western sky.  It was a sunny day in the middle of a wet week.  The nursery beds had been prepared and the foundations laid.  Any exposed roots were severed and shunted out of sight.  Birthing the block pruned away some excess foliage from the trees that were not really family.  And the rawness of the reality of adoption was brought into the light.

People affected by separations and adoptions no longer need keep silent because that eternal raw wound is now on public display.   One huge block of black granite broken apart to mark the spot and a nearby boulder sitting rock for contemplating the split of one part from another.

This artwork is for all those whose lives have been profoundly affected by adoption separation practices  it says on the partially polished front facing the river whose natural flow is profoundly affected by authorities that decide when they will open the weir gates.

Apologies have been made.  An apology for splitting apart a sacred and substantial physical and psychic bond between mother and child that separation may stretch, but will never break.  An apology for forever altering the identity of a new born child by issuing a government sanctioned fraudulent birth certificate saying strangers gave birth to a child that was not their own.  An apology for making it illegal or inordinately difficult for either party to find the other.

An apology for children who grew up never knowing someone who looked or behaved like them; the lower part of the front face will allow children to look for their own reflections in the polished stone.  But all those children are adults now and the higher section of the polished stone distorts any images with lots of sand blasted ingrained words.

And an apology to those adults who remain adopted without any way of claiming their original birth certificate as a legal document; an apology for stamping ‘superseded’ on their identity and that truthful birth record thus making it impossible for us to ever be next of kin to our kin.

Well maybe the official apology did not apologise for all those things, but this block will symbolize different things for different observers.

Someone said it is ugly.  Separating babies from their mothers is ugly, inhumane and ugly; unforgettable loss and grief for the mother and unrecalled but imprinted loss and disenfranchised grief for the baby.  A big black block of stone; like that feeling in my heart and my head, and my gut and in fact my whole being.  That is adoption.

Someone said it looks like a tomb; another symbol of separation loss.  Many babies died.  Fragile creatures, any animal including humans removed from their mothers at birth often fail to thrive.  Some babies died.  Some were never adopted and remained institutionalised until death.  Some became depressed or ‘sickly’ kids and some were angry ‘bad’ babies.  Many were not able to meet the expectations of couples who wanted to replace their own dead fetuses by someone else’s baby as if it were their own.  The ‘blank slate’ theory of newborn children died under forced adoptions long after it died as scientific theory.  Yes, parties to this forced separation at birth wanted a tomb; a place to bury the injustices done in the name of child welfare.  A memorial to those who took their own lives through the pain of loss, or destroyed their bodies through addictions to substances they used to repair the ‘Primal Wound’ to their souls.

Another person admired the artwork and asked about its origins.  She said it reminded her of her mother’s headstone.  She loved the polished black granite.  I remember my adoptive family visiting the cemetery every mothers’ and fathers’ day and wondering where my ancestors resided.  Now I can visit a beautiful spot on the banks of the river, where I can hear the caged animals in the zoo making the most of their captivity while fighting off the madness of being away from their herds or flocks and I can contemplate the extended family I might have known and the life I lived in captivity as a stranger to everyone.

The one thing that is obvious to me on this first day with the artwork on the riverbank is that it will not go un-noticed.  It is a magnet for attention.  Our response to separation, loss and adoption is there in bold black and grey for all to see.

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Film’In Utero’

Last night I went to see a film ‘In Utero’ ( which is part of the Transitions Festival in Adelaide.   I was expecting it to be about the development of the embryo in utero, and I was hoping I might find some resources to support what people who lost their mothers at birth, know in their very being.   I studied Embryology when I was a medical student in the 60’s, and in those days it was all about the development of the physical structure of skeletal framework and musculature and organs from different layers of the fertilised egg.  Since then electronic microscopes, new imaging procedures, and the studies of neuroscience have shown us so much more about this development.   The write up for the film led me to believe I would learn so much more, and the film did show more than I learnt in the 60’s, but not more than I have followed in the new developments in medical science since I was a student.  But it gave me the voices of more people than I knew who support the same understanding of the enduring effects into adulthood of life in the womb.

The organisers of the event invited Ian Gibbins, a retired embryologist and neuroscientist Professor from Flinders University to address the audience before the film, and he invited people to speak to him afterwards.  He said he thought some of the views expressed were controversial, and some were not supported by science!

There were a number of psychiatrists speaking from their learnings in understanding the ‘self’ and their experiences of working with many troubled clients.  Gabor Mate was one of the voices I detected before we ever saw his face; that was unexpected and excited me. I know his work addresses intergenerational trauma and early childhood experiences of trauma and he has an understanding of the biochemistry of addiction informed through education and his own early experiences.

Other expert speakers used archetypes and mythology to describe the journeys of some clients as being birth, or return to womb experiences.  They talked about modern superheroes, Alice in Wonderland, The Little Mermaid and the film the Matrix and gave explanations of the hero’s journey and the internal battles being about birth, and the battle for control between mothers and children.  Perhaps these stories are useful to some clients, but they are a bit hard to sell to scientists who rely on what they can see in microscopes or medical imaging.  So I thought perhaps this was what Gibbins may have trouble accepting.  It did not convince me, but at least I remain open to the idea that it might help the therapists using these stories, and one would hope, some of their clients.  After all, I eventually made peace with my own past through the use of story that included mythology.

There was talk about ‘imprinted memory’, as opposed to ‘conscious memory’ and one psychiatrist did the analysis of ‘The Matrix’ in terms of each person not understanding he is plugged into his own ‘imprint’.  For Neil the moment of unplugging from his imprint is the moment of facing his initial trauma, and the fear of it makes him want to be numb again, to replug – and he wants his fake life back.  His fake life is the one he is living as he represses the implicit memories that are trying to break through.  While I really never have managed to watch the Matrix right through (I avoid scenes of violence and loud noises – which I sometimes think may be related to my mother being involved in a car crash while she was pregnant with me), I suspect this may be some sort of explanation of the young happy adoptees who eventually face the breakthrough of ‘implicit memories’ of the real early influences in their lives, and those who continue to maintain adoption has no impact on them, while they act out the anger of the early traumatic loss and stress.

I did not let that analysis detract from the main message of the film; that how we as societies treat pregnant and  birthing women affects the life time of the developing human, and determines what sort of society we become; that world ecology begins with womb ecology.

I was disappointed that I did not learn much that I had not known before coming to the film, but I had the names of authors of some interesting sounding books, and those resources are here ( for those who want to follow them up.

After the film I approached Gibbins.  There was no one else approaching him so I went for it.  I said I enjoyed the film, although there was nothing new in it for me.  But I was disappointed that the issue of separating mother and child at birth such as is done in surrogacy arrangements and adoptions was not addressed.  I would like to know of any research he knows about around the issues of this separation.  He began the sort of diatribe I remember using when I was a secondary student and faced with a question I could not answer.  I just threw in everything I could that was related to the topic and hoped the examiner would find something in there to give me some marks.  But I expected something more from a University Professor, even just the honesty that it has never concerned him would have sufficed.

Every now and again during a long ‘lecture’ he addressed me and said he was getting around to the answer.  By now about a dozen other people had gathered around, but were not saying anything.  I waited a while, a few other comments were made and they seemed to support the connection of mother and child, and the evidence that there is learning in the womb.   I tried to bring him back to the question, and asked about imaging in neuroscience that shows the brain activity that indicates a reduced production of dopamine and other neurotransmitters, but by this time he was digging his heels in; there was no evidence of learning in the womb.  Babies might hear, but don’t learn.  According to him all learning is after birth and is social:  most chemicals including cortisol do not cross the placental barrier.  He almost said exactly what I learned in the 60’s – that nothing crosses the barrier except oxygen and other gaseous exchanges.  He did say there was no evidence that cortisol crosses the placenta (therefore the embryo/baby would not be stressed by the experiences of the mother yet the evidence for this was the premise of the film).  He proffered as proof of his oppositional  statement that if you want to give a chemical to an embryo, injecting it into the mother was not sufficient to get it to the baby – it’s been tried and it just doesn’t work.  I didn’t want to engage in a long argument here – the theatre staff wanted us to finish up, but I would like to suggest that injecting a ‘foreign chemical’ into the mother, which her system may want to excrete quickly, is not in any way comparable to the mother’s normal hormonal and chemical responses to stress in her environment.

A few other people spoke to me afterwards.  A man asked me if I had heard of ‘Breath Work’.  He is a ‘Breath Worker’.  He knows people re-experience early life experiences in therapy.  Yes, I knew that – there is a long history of techniques that connect people to their own ‘implicit memories’ I could agree (though of course this can be dangerous for a client who is not prepared, and with a therapist who does not have a lot of experience and knowledge of what he is working with).  But this man seemed to understand.  I made a statement about what we know from isolating babies in humidi-cribs, and how their survival was better if their mothers were present with them, and a woman said she had been in a humidi-crib in those days of isolation, and I asked if she experienced depression or grief at the loss of her mother at that time.  She nodded and looked distressed.  I said we know better now.

We know these things because we listen to people’s experiences.  Experiences are data when gathered together and can inform research projects to give us more insights and new theories to test.  Why do we have a society that generally does not want to gather this information?  Whatever has already been done is ignored as if there is some powerful force trying to keep control of the way things are done at present, by people too afraid to face their imprints.  Or is it just plain greed by people who can profit from continuation of the way things are working for them?

Spurred on by the obvious support I had from those who were lingering, I had the final say before I left.  I suggested to Gibbins that he has a look at last week’s episode of ‘Insight’ and ask himself what it is that drives people who say they have had good adoptive parents to always feel ‘different’ , and to want to find their birth families to understand themselves.  His thesis of – it’s all social learning after birth depending on how good or bad the parenting is for the child, does not hold up.  He said he sometimes wonders how he would feel if his mother told him there was a secret and he was not related to his parents.  I had a quick answer for that – Coming from the privileged position of knowing your parents, you cannot conceive the situation of those without that privilege.  There were approving nods among the lingerers, and I had the feeling I was not the only one removed from ancestry.  And I left wondering how much involvement he has had with the surrogacy movement supporting the ‘blank slate theory’, or whether his experience as a man make him completely unable to conceive of the possibility of a strong connection between mother and child that is not broken by the birthing process, and  cutting of the umbilical cord.

Great film.  Poor quality discussion afterwards.  Enough to get  me to return to writing for my blog which has not happened for a long while.


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The young dingo mum drops me by the water-pool remaining after summer rains near Granite Downs, and the hawk transports me to an old barren dingo couple with a different trajectory.  They sell me to the scalpers who keep me as a pet.  The emu waits for my return and I find her eggs in the grass by the boulders near Mimili. She shows me that the desert has survived and is still alive if you know how to look at it.  The hawk forever watches on, accompanying me when I travel, directing my journeys when I move across the land.

156The message stick says:  LIGHTEN UP

Lighten up with Bright light, Kodak yellow light or Fuji blue light

Lighten up by emptying the pockets of rocks emptying the head of crocs.

Lighten up so you can fly.

Emus are flightless birds.  They can run real fast, and flap about, but they just can’t take off.

I’ve taken off so many times, but I just cannot stay in the air for long.  The heart is too heavy – sitting above a gutful of memories remembered but not recalled.

135 The core is hidden but the thick trunk remains visible.

The hollow fills with rocks that weigh me down, and water in which to drown.

When the umbilical cord was cut, so was my place with my ancestral roots and my genetic history – separated from my mother forever; it was everyone’s intention that I never see her again.

Except mine.  The little baby hiding in the dark centre remains waiting for her mother to return bringing the continuity of life learned in the womb to the strangeness of the outside world.  Without her care life for me remains strange, a stranger in a strange land.  Nine months in the womb beneath her heartbeat did not prepare me for bonding to the stranger – to someone else not her.


Outside the trunk I have friends of course, but stolen babies remain walled-in – strangers to ourselves and each other.

Lightening up is going out with friends even when the day is cold and wet and you have to rug up.


Lightening up means looking at the shadow and deciding if it is pulling me forwards or blocking my pathway of progress.

Lightening up means stepping out of the circle of stones and building mandalas with the rocks.

shadow for dingo dreaming

The ancestors have gathered around in the light of dawn to gather the power of the centre, and create the energy to draw me forwards.

Lightening up means looking at the dingo, the bird, the emu and the tortoise from my dingo dreaming story.

The flight of the bird that took me from one dingo family to another, and left me with the family of the flightless bird that ran and flapped around and just did not know how to get off the ground.  But the sun shines down upon its back and powers those strong leathery feet.  The feet that will travel the journey back to the heights of the hawk.


The dingo foot is stamped in my hand

My hands move the rocks and the mandala is formed


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Flames dance from an orange sheet below one log and join with the tangerine glow around another.  New life starts in the turmoil of birth as mothers transform earth energy into a new bundle of flesh and deliver it to the world.

The moon appears as a translucent silvery disk once huge on the horizon and appearing smaller as it climbs into the sky, reminding us of our cycles that prepare our bodies to carry a child.

And we sit in a circle of light honouring mothers, past present and future.  We are mothers, daughters, sisters and aunties.   Most people know one mother very intimately.

I am adopted.  I have had many surrogate mothers.  But the mother who carried me in her belly for the most significant part of my development is the woman who has influenced my life more than any other.  The rest of my development occurred on top of a separation trauma.  Other adoptive and surrogate mothers invested a lot of time and energy and money into my life; it could be said, much more than my birth mother.  But even a good building on shaky foundations will always shake.

Aircraft descend to their landings at an airport I never thought was so close.  They block out the moon for a moment; the clear silvery moon reflecting sunlight has no light of its own.  Like earth, like my birth.

In my mother’s belly I developed my tastes in food, my hearing for her language, friends and her environment, and through the amniotic fluid I was surrounded in the smells she smelt.  The first hormone soup I was exposed to was provided by her reactions to her environment.  If only the people around her had surrounded her with love and comfort, I might not have been exposed to her stress hormones, and been born an adrenaline junkie.  A birth mother is never a surrogate; she is foundational.  The rest of the mothers are surrogates, regardless of where the DNA comes from.  Ancestral connections matter; genetic connections matter; it is our connection with a distant past that lives in us, but medical research in epigenetics has already shown that genetic coding can be changed by environment.  We have no idea of the issues that might be faced by children born through surrogate arrangements with a mixture of genetic material which may or may not be related to the mother growing the new baby.

The moon pulls the tides in the ocean and the water within us. Life is in the energy around us, moved by forces of the sun, the earth and the moon returning water from oceans to the mountain peaks in a continuous cyclical flow. And we are encompassed in that life; that love.

There is a gentle movement of breath yet almost no smoke in the cinders. For more years than we can imagine women of the tribe ‘smoked’ their new babies in to the life of their tribes. Smoked babies are earth mother spirits of their land.

We take some fire in an abalone shell and add some white sage bush to create healing smoke and we smoke ourselves and we drum to the beat of the heart, of the Earth. We celebrate life-givers.

I am that bundle of flesh given life by mother earth, but separated from my tribe. I was ‘Christened’ by a man appointed to anoint me to God the father. No smoke for me to join the tribe, just water to drown sorrows in the baptismal font, water that moves me to search for the hearth of my home; to roam and to search for my birthing tree.

I’m thankful for all my mothers who cared and comforted, nurtured and loved; Mother Earth and Father Sky. But I have a shield like that spherical moon to reflect your light away from my heart. A door closed and the fire went out without smoke to erase the hostile hospital smell; you have opened the door but I have the scar of not knowing a primal bond with the mother who birthed me, nor the one-ness of belonging at home.

i love you to the moon and back

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I am secure, enveloped inside my mother.  I am her egg and my father’s sperm each with cell memories of generations of my family.  We share DNA, but more than that we share an ancestral life line dating back to the beginning of time.  In my cocoon of familiar ground, day and night are marked by my mother’s routine activities and rest.  Days are divided by meals when the regular rhythmic sounds of her heart are accompanied by digestive noises.  I am surrounded by fluid that is infused with her tastes in food, and I hear the accents of her language and the sounds of those with whom she keeps company.  My rapidly developing brain is being wired for bonding to the woman with whom I am already very familiar.

Then comes the day when I am expelled into the world.  I experience the horror, agony and suffering of a baby’s journey in a medical birth. I struggle for breathe as I am forced to begin a life separated from my mother’s umbilical cord.  There are moments of trauma in the miracle of birth; the body begins to inflate and air fires up the flames in the blood which will energise the muscles and organs to support new life.  Landing on another planet could not be stranger than arriving in this world.

But then I am placed on my mother’s tummy and I hear those familiar sounds.  I feel the movements in her body as it contracts to close the wound left by my birth and the afterbirth.  And as I suckle, I remember the tastes of the amniotic fluid which once cushioned my life.  The milk is infused with the same tastes.  Every cell in my body resonates with the memory of my mother’s body.  Her voice is familiar and I relax into the comfort of home.  The trauma of birth resolves.  That is the end of the physical separation.  Given many more months with her I might make a psychic separation from my mother and begin to see myself as a separate person.

But that is not my birth story.  That is a story I can tell my children about their births.  No one ever told me a birth story.  Birth stories are normal rites of passage between mothers and daughters that my adoptive mother could not share with me.  My birth certificate is a document the government has falsified.  They want me to believe my birth story is that I was born to my adoptive parents and accept my life prior to adoption is stamped ‘superseded’.  I do not try to write another birth story with my adoptive mother in the centre.  I prefer to say ‘I have no birth story.  I was adopted.’

My psychiatrist calls it developmental trauma.  He explains to me, that like other adopted people he has known, my anxiety is probably related to the anxiety of my mother before birth, and the stress hormones circulating in her body and therefore in mine.  She knew we would not be together again after birth; she knew the shame she had brought on herself and her family by this unplanned pregnancy and an absent father for her child.  She knew she could not provide for herself while caring for a child.

The trauma of separation at birth and subsequent loss for both of us cannot be resolved.  We are locked into life driven by stress hormones.  And I will never know familiar ground.

Familiar ground – what is that?  I imagine being grounded to the earth by roots through ancestral lines of a family tree.  I think of my grandchild and his mother.  His mother says Ben has my family nose.  I didn’t know we had one.  She says we have a line on our nose, the baby, his father, his uncle and his aunty – my three children and me.  She says if I ever find my father we will know where that nose came from.  Familiar ground!  And I have spent my life searching for familiar ground – for the roots of ‘home’ and the feeling of ‘belonging’.  I learn to live with this dis-ease.

Then a strange thing happens.  I am re-traumatised at a post adoption support meeting last night.  The adoptee group facilitator regularly shows us videos of distressing stories of birth mothers.  How do they expect this to be part of a healing journey for the adult adoptee; the baby that birth mother is talking about?  The baby that was whisked away from its mother at the moment of birth, never to know the woman it has been prepared to meet on this day; never to know the connection that would resolve the separation trauma for the mother and for the child.  They are letting the mothers’ voices be heard.  They are leaving in silence the voice of the child who is still screaming.  So often adoptees leave this group to go home and want to slit their wrists, or self-medicate with alcohol and other drugs.  I hear the stories from people who left and never came back.  But this is how I experience this particular night.

The mother has told her story many times.  She does it in graphic detail.  She is being interviewed by a man who is adopted.  His story is not part of the mother’s story.  At the end of the video, I say to the group; ‘I wonder how that man felt.  He couldn’t leave the interview to deal with his own emotions’.  Leave to be violently sick – is what I’m thinking, because that is what I’m feeling.

Through this night I have all the signs of another recurrence of Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS).  How often has this happened after these groups?  And why do I keep going back?  Yet I can’t bear to think of my life without this connection.  Trauma does that to you – it makes you hang on to the experiences that re-traumatise, and keeps you in a place of familiarity dancing with adrenaline; it is all you know.  Long ago I gave up going out on the day that followed these night groups.   I think how the experience in that group compares to another group I attend, where the focus is on healing the disconnection from self.  It is about connection not separation by adoption, and it works wonderfully for me.  I am starting to get a sense of ‘belonging’ which has been missing for so long.  And as I begin to feel safe in the healing group, I experience trauma in the adoption group and a new truth about my trauma is revealed to me.

I remember when Post Traumatic Stress was first diagnosed in me some twenty years ago.  After an incident at work, I was sent to many psychologists and psychiatrists, who all wrote reports for the insurer.  One psychologist decided it would be helpful to do an ‘inner child visualisation’.  It did not go as she expected, and I could hear the panic in her voice as she tried to find some comfort for me in the visualisation.  I reported back to my doctor; ‘It was as if she had done a Caesarean on me, removed the child and left the mother to bleed to death on the operating table’.  I was the mother and the child.  It was quite a graphic image, which shocked my doctor as it still shocks me.  I regressed to a place I did not want to return from.

I talked to my doctor about the things I had seen as a medical student in the 1960’s when women made up only about 16 percent of the classes.  In particular I was upset about the way single women were treated if they needed gynaecological or obstetric procedures, experiments being done on stillborn or aborted foetuses and early experiments of in-vitro fertilisation.  They were treated as ideal training grounds for young medical students and biochemical research students before anyone ever talked about ‘informed consent’, and before abortions were legalised.  My doctor said she was glad she had been able to train at a ‘women’s medical school’.  I said I left medicine because I was told; ‘if you are interested in ethics you should be studying philosophy; we just develop the technology and other people work out how to use it’.  I talked about these things because I thought they may have influenced my experience with the psychologist doing the ‘inner-child’ visualisation.  I did not think about separation at birth or adoption.

It is the original trauma for a child removed from its mother at the moment of birth.  The baby does not connect with the mother who has been its world for the last nine months.  The haemorrhage of blood and de-connection does not stop flowing throughout our lives.  It is the haemorrhage of blood that I had when I gave birth to my daughter; the connection to her, however, remains intact.   Mothers tell birth stories.  Stolen babies cannot tell birth stories; their birth stories are turned into adoption stories, their birth certificates are falsified, and society wants us to believe our birth certificates that say adoptive parents gave ‘birth’ to us.

Some twenty years later that graphic image has returned to me after the support group meeting.  I understand now, that the mother abandoned to bleed to death in the delivery room when her baby has been whisked away was my birth story.  Nobody had recognised it; because no one was looking at the traumatic effects of the separation and loss of adoption on me.  I didn’t recognise it; because I had never heard any adoptee birth stories.   But when I saw the video yesterday I wanted to be sick, I wanted to run outside, I could not understand how the interviewer could sit without any show of emotion and listen to the birth mother tell her story, because I could not.

In the 20 years since I was in that psychologist’s office I’ve had treatment for PTS, and the first ten years included investigations for dissociative identity disorder.  The cause was suspected to be either the inner child visualisation, and or the effects of being on and off Prozac in a short space of time.  One well-read psychologist suggested the hormonal changes around menopause created a chemical environment in the brain similar to that which existed at puberty, and this changed chemical environment could result in the surfacing of old memories which were previously repressed.   I didn’t care, I just wanted to heal what I called ‘shattered brain syndrome’, and escape all these people who needed to affix labels they had in diagnostic manuals then wanted to prescribe drugs that made me suicidal.   I didn’t know then that I just needed to call it ‘separation and adoption issues’.

And now at the age of 65, I ask you: ‘could the underlying cause be the removal from my mother on the birthing table in the hospital where I was delivered to be handed over to strangers, never again to experience the comfort of familiarity I had known for the first nine months of my life before birth?’  ‘Experts’ may argue; they make good money by doing so – I know because I have paid so much – but I believe I have at last found, from my subconscious mind the long hidden birth story that explains the extensive periods of my life lost to intensive grief.  I will no longer look to them for validation, because now I have my story.  The story no one talks about; the story about the lives changed forever in the delivery room, when a child is born and separated from its mother for adoption.

My birth left my mother to bleed to death metaphorically, but for me her death is real.  She remains a ghost who has been with me all my life.  She is the ghost who lived with us in my adoptive family.  She and her genetics were suspected of being behind many of my misdemeanours, mental illnesses, and other physical ailments.  I wonder if my adoptive family would have been so eager to adopt a child if they had known about the exorbitant costs involved in trying to keep alive, a child who continually grieves a primal loss; and the emotional cost of having a child who could not make a primary connection because every cell in her body rejected the foreign bodies around her.

No one has the ‘right’ to have a baby. The baby must have the right to be nurtured by its own family with all the supports society can muster for the family.  Yet I wonder if society will always impose on innocent young children the burden of trying to create a happy family for people threatened by their infertility and who cannot feel ‘complete’ without children.  It is a heavy burden for some of us to bear, and we are often destined to fail in unrealistic expectations.  We are not born with a magic wand that will make a marriage work, or fix feelings of grief associated with infertility, and incompleteness.

‘Does it matter where your child comes from?’ some ask.  Consider this: if someone broke into a hospital nursery where your newborn baby was housed, and swapped around all the names and charts and cribs, would it matter where your child came from?  You could take home the child in the crib where yours had been, or the one with your name label, or the one with your doctor’s charts; one of them might be the one you gave birth to, but would it be yours?  Does it matter?  Could you recognise your child?  This we now know – Your child will know You.  Do you think it matters where your child came from?  If you think you could love any of them equally, consider the fact that the baby will only be longing to connect to someone with whom it is already very familiar; no other bond will be as strong or equal to that one.  No other bond will release the trauma of separation at birth.



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On adoption activism.

On adoption activism.  Daniel Ibn Zayd 

What is the future of adoption activism? What should be the focus of those who advocate for adoptee rights, the rights of children to know their origins, the rights of such children’s parents to maintain or re-establish filiation? It seems to me that much of the the focus over the last decade that I’ve been “defogged” has been on the psychological effects of those “touched” by the “adoption triad”. By this I mean to say much energy has been spent in trying to teach everyone how to “deal with” what has happened to us, and, in this way, to tacitly accept what has happened as being valid but, more importantly, inarguable. This reveals our status quo, as well as a power differential that demands that adoption be accepted as a valid, beneficent, and useful tool of family creation if not charity.

I think the days of this acceptance have come to an end. With the activism of Korean adoptees leading the way, that of mothers in diverse countries such as Guatemala, Spain, Argentina, etc. demanding repatriation of or reunion with their children, as well as Indigenous peoples, fathers, and adoptees themselves standing up and demanding their rights as concerns family ties, we are witnessing the growing voices of those who maintain that, in fact, adoption is not the status quo; that its roots are not in family creation; that it is a broken, corrupt, and failed industry; that the maintenance of this status quo is reflective of systems of power that are based in fabrications and mythologies as well as a hegemonic control of the discussion of the topic.

Among other activisms, we have seen a renewed challenging of the terminology used to define the adoption process, as well as those affected by it. Not in the puke-inducing politically correct terminology such as “birth mother” or “triad“, but in terms of self-empowerment. There is a growing awareness of the various levels of hegemony maintained by those who seek to control our narratives, whether this be in academia, the legal and medical professions, the religious realm, mainstream and social media, the popular press, etc. We are finally managing to unite along common lines that break through formerly disintegrative borders of race, age, or locale of adoption. The tide is turning.

To continue reading – go to Daniel’s post

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Adoption Act Review – South Australia


We are a group of adults who are adopted. We wish to have input for consideration in reviewing the Adoption Act.  We believe some comments are also relevant to the Child Protection Systems Royal Commission and ask that you forward our submission to Commissioner Nyland.

As adoptees, the adoption process is supposed to act in our best interests, and for our welfare.  Yet as adult adoptees, we have found it very difficult to be fairly represented in the debates about adoption.   We believe the adoption industry has hijacked the debate to provide children for adults who find they cannot live their lives without children.  We question which children need to go into any care arrangements outside their extended families?  We also question the suitability and imagination of adults to take an authoritarian charge of another woman’s child simply because they find their lives are ‘incomplete’ without children.

We note ‘In all proceedings under this Act, the welfare of the child to whom the proceedings relate must be regarded as the paramount consideration.’  We pose the question:  What research has been done on adult adoptees to determine the long term welfare interests of the adopted child?  And further ask at what age an adoptee may take on the full legal status of other adult humans, and be entitled to their own identifying information, and to claim and embrace their whole history.

The current debate about making adoptions easier, concerns us greatly.  We do not support using adoptions to privatise foster care for children whose parents are unable to care for them. These debates do not consider the unanticipated costs of adoption to the adoptive parents or to adoptees over their life-time, because they are private expenses the individuals themselves have to meet.  The costs to government and their legal liability are reduced when foster care numbers are reduced.  Then there is no incentive for governments to improve foster care so that children do not have to experience numerous placements.    Most importantly there is no incentive for governments to strengthen family networks that are fragmenting or disintegrating in a market based economy, which is creating bigger divisions between those with wealth and educational opportunities, and those in poverty.  Governments need to alleviate the poverty and provide the education and infrastructure to deal with affordable housing, mental health issues, drug and alcohol problems and intergenerational child abuse.   When children are asked by the media, whether they would rather have been adopted instead of fostered, the children are responding to a mythological presentation of adoption; that adoption will provide them with security in a happy family without problems.  There is little research available to show the ongoing impacts and outcomes for Adoptees.  The children are never asked if they would prefer that their parents get the help they need to be able to successfully care for them.

The construct of adoption.

Adoption has been used as a social solution to provide children for adults who want them.  It severs the child’s birthright identity.  Yet it is couched in a model that defines ‘angel (sometime ‘celebrity’) rescuers saving deserving children from the tyranny of dysfunctional families.  In times past women were demonised for being unmarried mothers.  Currently we understand the demons are often drugs and alcohol.  Wars and disease in poverty stricken areas of the world are a convenient source of ‘orphans’.  Many children would be able to be kept by their mothers and extended families if the families received suitable support to deal with such problems as poverty and possible histories of illness, invasions and abuse.  Children’s best interests and welfare would be best served by supporting their families wherever possible, not in searching for new families.  There will always be more children in need of care than places for them to move to, and only the youngest, prettiest and smartest will be chosen by the ‘saviours’ who want to ‘help’.  What of the others; where we allow some to be chosen, there will always be a majority who are not chosen.  There is a need for a model of child welfare that supports all children in families through poverty alleviation and education.  This model would be in the interests of the children and the nation.  It would leave childless couples, instead of acquiring someone else’s child, in a position if they so wished, to use their ‘philanthropic’ instincts to give time and finances to child centred programs, in the manner of ‘maiden aunts’ of times gone by.  For the cost of adopting a child they could support whole villages of children.

The welfare of the child’.

 When we enter into discussions about the welfare of the child, how do we define the terms – child, and welfare?  Under the current adoption laws an adopted child remains an adopted child sentenced for life.  The child never attains an age where it can become entitled to its own identifying information, history, ancestory, family medical anomalies etc.  The term ‘welfare’ raises more issues than the term ‘child’.  If we look at the immediate issues of removing a child from danger – which must obviously be done, does that amount to the same as removing a child from that danger for the rest of its life?  How do we define ‘danger’?  I believe many of us were removed from the ‘dangerous’ stigma of being raised by a single mother when Church and State deemed single mothers to be a danger to male authoritarian power.  Do we now remove children from parents who are drug and/or gambling addicted even though the State fully supports and profits from the sale of drugs and proceeds of gambling?

Adoption is not just about re-housing children; it is about creating new identities.  With the current knowledge of embryology, neurobiology and psychology adoption can no longer be framed as ‘being in the best interest of the child’.  We know a child at birth is not a ‘blank slate’ waiting for a stranger to write their own story onto.  We know adoptees have always been over-represented in juvenile courts, detention centres, adult prisons and mental health facilities, yet State authorities and most professional counsellors draw no relationship to the status of adoption. In our view adoption as it has been practiced is child abuse and needs to cease.  We remain powerless in the face of an adoption act that binds us to an identity that is not our own.  New legal arrangements need to recognise that a newborn child already has a 9 month relationship with its mother and is not psychically prepared for separation at birth.  Any subsequent relationships are only a part of the child’s identity.

It needs to be recognised that the person has been given at least 2 sets of parents; one by birthright and at least one other by government intervention and possibly others through choice.  All are incorporated in the person’s identity, and probably none of them will feel like a complete and proper fit, or their place of eternal belonging.

From our experience of adoption we think it is highly likely there is an ancient echo in the souls of many people who no longer have detailed knowledge of their roots, which once was predominant in tribal families.  Our birth family, sometimes with the help of medical manipulation of DNA gives us our ancestral lines back to the beginning of time.  It is the genealogical family tree that so many people are currently interested in constructing.  It is the family history interest in the population that new television programs such as ‘Who do you think you are?’ pander to.  It is the DNA medical practitioners enquire about whenever we go to the doctor with a problem, and get asked ‘Is there any family history of . . . ?’  There is an assumption in our society that we know our roots, and our roots matter.  These things confront us regularly and such questioning in medical settings is a constant reminder of our difference, deprivation and powerlessness.

Where is the immediate and long term research on the outcomes for children who have been adopted that can support any discussion of ‘best interests’?

When I was studying Social Work around 1980, I was able to find research showing adoptees were disproportionally highly represented in juvenile court appearances (where they were more often unaccompanied than birth children), in jails, and in mental institutions.  Yet I cannot find any ongoing research.  We find overseas studies showing adopted children have higher suicide ideation and commit suicide at about 4 times the rate of the non-adopted same age population.  We find an addiction specialist (Paul Sunderland) who has identified a strong connection between adoptee status and addictions.  We have had two celebrity adoptees suicide in the last years, without any mention of their adoption experiences.  In fact one family said adoption did not affect the dead adoptee because she was treated as any one of the family.  We don’t doubt she was.  We don’t doubt that it was a good family that did its best.  But in denying that adoption has any effect on the adoptee, the adoptee is denied the space to tell her own story; her story which includes more than her adopted life.

The Forced Adoption Apology process surveyed parties to adoption.  Adoptees were by far the largest respondent group.  Some analysis was done on the responses, and adoptees were found to have mental health and other health and welfare consequences from adoption.  Responding to the survey was a self-selection process.  Some of us were lucky to know about it because of involvement with a Post Adoption support group.  Many adoptees did not know about it, so could not have responded.  For adoptees who are known to have mental health issues at a higher rate than the general population, what is the likelihood that many did not have a chance to respond; there was no attempt to survey jails, mental health institutions, and homeless shelters.  If you want to represent the views of adoptees, (and we would argue that was not the purpose of that particular survey), you would need to approach many government services, including Certrelink and survey their clients for adoptees.  This would have the dual benefit of alerting the State to the current welfare of adult adoptees, and adoptees to the possible relationship of their health and welfare status to their adoption status.

We believe there should be an investigation into the number of adoptees who commit suicide.  The best way would be to compare ‘amended birth certificates’ with cause of death for all those who have died.  A less satisfactory way but better than nothing, would be for the coroner to be alerted to recording adoption status on death certificates of adoptees.  We believe this is done for suicide cases in Western Australia, but no one has ever collated the data.

It is a great concern to us that a celebrity Debra Lee Furness is leading the push to make adoptions quicker and easier for prospective adopters in the Eastern states. She is an adopter and has an influential position with Tony Abbott. We believe she had Federal funding for the National Adoption Awareness Week which did not represent the interests of adoptees from the point of view of people who had been adopted. Like other celebrities often do, she creates the myth she lives within. She adopted her children in America as new born babies because she would never have qualified as an adopter in Australia. It is our belief that the birth mother of one of Debra’s adopted children committed suicide when Debra refused to honor the pre-adoption agreement for contact and on-going information. Debra was shown in an ABC documentary taking a child from the delivery room as if she was acquiring a ‘blank slate’ and no one challenged this outdated and always erroneous idea. Furness has been able to have her voice heard as if she is some expert with authority in the field of child psychology and/or adoptions. She began speaking out soon after the Forced Adoption Apology as if it was a non-event. And it is our experience as adoptees that the issues adoptees face in their lives have yet to be heard.

When does an adoptee become an adult with the same legal rights as any other?

Adoption is an ongoing legal process which denies adoptees their basic human rights of identity, and prevents us achieving the status of functional human adults who can be trusted to own our identifying information.  We are born free in our birth families, but we are indentured to a procuring family through adoption.  In many cases the procuring family has paid large sums of money to many profiteers involved in the industry.  This money does not benefit the birth family, nor does it provide anything for the welfare and ongoing lifelong costs of the adoptee.

A new approach to caring for children who can no longer be, or temporarily cannot be cared for by their parents, needs to be devised.  In any case ‘adoption’ and any alternate care orders should cease to bind the adoptee when attaining  the age of adulthood (currently 18), because there is no longer a need for government intervention or continuing court orders in the person’s life -unless the need is for something other than adoption.  At the same time the person should become entitled to all their records held by government departments, statutory bodies and agencies that have been contracted to provide government services.  Parents who have their children adopted need to know they will be asked again at this time for all their medical history to be updated for the benefit of their now- adult child.

What we know about child development and continue to ignore in the interests of marketing babies is this:

For the 9 months prior to birth, the embryo is developing in preparation to meet its mother.  Its rapidly developing brain is learning the sounds, smells and tastes of its mother.  Within a day or two of birth the baby can identify its mother, and her milk.  There has been a new term coigned as the ‘fourth trimester’ of pregnancy in acknowledgement of the importance of the early connection after birth of the child and mother.  If the child does not meet its mother in this time, there is no comfort of familiarity, and it is likely there will be no comfort of familiarity for its whole life.  The baby brain has to dissociate that foundational learning and start again with a whole new experience of language, sounds, smells and tastes. When this happens more than once, there can never be a solid foundation to grow on.  Paul Sunderland refers to this dissociation at birth as a loss that is remembered but not recalled.  It sits in the memory, and drives primitive survival mechanisms which do not serve us well.  We experience this as a life-long dis-ease, anxiety state and continuing dissociation of identity, phasing in and out of conversations and other situations.  Sunderland sees it as the underlying issue in addictive behaviours, and says while adopted people may not appear particularly depressed, when they are scored on a measuring instrument, they are almost off the scale.  We learned to hide our emotions at a young age.  The mother of one of member said of her daughter ‘she didn’t seem depressed’; the member has had a diagnosis of depression most of her adult life.

We know adoptees suffer from ambiguous loss, sustained disenfranchised grief and ongoing trauma and often have an inability to function adequately due to freezing in the face of triggers in the same manner as a Post-Traumatic Stress response.  We have more mental health problems than the general population, with depression, substance abuse and suicidal ideology rife.  Adoptees have always been over-represented in medical and legal services.  We do not know the full extent of these problems because adoption is a social experiment that was never evaluated, and is such a successful market opportunity for entrepreneurs exploiting the ‘needs’ of childless people to have children.

Adoptees voices on the whole have been shut out of the media unless they have a ‘happy story’.  It is only the advent of social media with the internet that has enabled us to form communities where we can talk about the very real issues of our lives.  We discovered even the self-described ‘happy adoptees’ usually have shaky foundations.  Where once we might have said that our adoption had no effect on us, it was only through a lack of understanding of the connection between our lived experiences and our beginnings to life.  Many of us did not have, and still do not have doctors and counsellors who can make connections between our episodes of depression, extreme grief reactions and relationship difficulties to our beginnings in life, yet we find this information is available, but not well known.  We pay exorbitant amounts for therapy that does not necessarily address our core issues because most therapists have no idea that adoptees have any core issues!  Certainly I would have described the effects of adoption quite differently at different times in my life, and it is only now in older age, I appreciate how very much of my life has been shaped by adoption, and how subsequent experiences of loss have led to long periods of depression.  I have always blamed myself for being inadequate to meet the demands of others, and carry shame and guilt learnt in my adoptive family.   I have heard other mature age adoptees express similar sentiments.

It is our experience that people who ‘need’ children to make themselves ‘whole’ are unsuitable parents.  People need to have a sense of their own ‘wholeness’ before they can successfully incorporate another woman’s child into their lives, and still allow the child to find or express its own true nature.  Many of us were replacements for miscarried or dead children, or for children who were never conceived through the expense of IVF.  Through the lens of their own grief and losses these childless adults, could not see us as little people with our own destinies to fulfil, and we grew up ‘knowing’ our purpose in life was to keep everybody happy by denying ourselves.  We learned fast to be ‘good children’, to toe the line, to perfect perfectionism and become overachievers, and thus fulfil the hopes of the adopters for their vicarious glories.  While there was an implicit silence around adoption, we still picked up messages like: ‘you need to be happy:  we need this to be good’.  Our destinies were altered to become the child needed to fill the hole in someone else’s fantasies.  This inevitably led some of us to implosion or explosion with depression and anger.

Re-empowerment of adoptees on reaching adulthood

In memory of the fact that adoption was performed for the ‘best interests of the child’, this should be re-enacted when the child reaches 18.  No considerations that conflict with the needs of adoptees to know their personal information should be given to other parties to the adoption after that age.  We were never a consenting party to the adoption arrangements in the first place.  The new legislation needs to provide for the Adoption Authorities to finalise involvement with the adoption case when an adopted person becomes 18, and immediately for all older adoptees.  All information on record needs to be made available to the adoptee when it is requested, without the need for further form filling and about town run-arounds.  Adopted people should always have access to their one and only true record of birth without the need to purchase amended and thus falsified certificates.

The new legislation needs to provide for the Adoption Authorities to send a final letter to the birth family when they are finalising their involvement with the case.  The letter needs to explain the need for more information that was not previously collected.  The adoptee is entitled to know the names of their mother and father, and to have updated medical information about them.

The Department needs to admit, that in the light of new knowledge, it is important for many adoptees to know about their origins.  (This should apply for children formed through IVF and surrogacy as well.)  In the case of the Forced Adoption Era, they need to apologise for not getting information about the baby’s father.  Many adoption agencies did not record the information because they did not want to complicate the adoption by having to seek the father’s permission as well as the mother’s for the child to be adopted outside of its family.  They did not predict adoptees would want that information.  They now know adoptees do want it, and it needs to be given to them.  The department should apologise for the further anguish this may cause mothers.  But the alternative is to continue denying vital information to adults that should be theirs as a basic human right.  If they had ever acted in the best interests of the child all of this information would have been collected in the first place and be available to the adopted person when they reached adulthood and first requested it.

We know adoptees need identifying information to resolve their own identities to satisfy their constructed self.  We know that prohibiting access to such identifying information results in feelings of powerlessness especially in attitudes to authorities and affects peoples’ ability to form sustainable relationships in life. We now know old promises made to birth families and adopters were not in the interests of adoptees.  Vetos must be abolished.  Governments have no problems breaking promises in many other matters when it suits them, especially in the light of new information.  This is such a case.   It is painful to contemplate.  But it needs to be done, so adoptees have a way of resolving their own identities. Most of us have never had a genetic family as a point of reference for life stages which might have offered some security in our identity formation. Our birth families already had a life before losing their children; we have been in protective custody all of our lives.

In the light of the above discourse it is difficult to address the restrictions imposed by an old Adoption Act, and the categories for review.  As adoptees we would frame the review differently.  But in the interests of meeting the criteria we would like to say this:

adoption information vetoes

  • The Act should be altered to provide for a letter to be sent by the Department to advise that information vetoes are ending, and the varying needs of the other parties for their information is paramount. It needs to acknowledge that this is best practice in the light of new information about the mental health of all parties to adoption that has come from the recent federal government reports. Each party to adoption should be given the opportunity to include information that was not collected previously. All information held by all departments and agencies should be made available to the parties who experienced losses due to adoption.


  • We also support the abolition of contact vetoes. We recognize this may be difficult for some people who were promised anonymity. If a person can make a substantiated claim for exceptional circumstances there may be a case for some exceptions, but we cannot think of any we would support. It certainly should not be allowed on the grounds of protecting the anonymity of the people who created the child in their younger years. We all grow up. We all need to take responsibility, even when it is hard. Our parents need to accept that we are no longer babies and we are entitled to be treated as responsible adults. All parties to adoption have the same rights as any other member of the public to apply for an Apprehended Violence Order if they are receiving unwarranted attention from anyone.
  • Remembering the welfare of the child to whom the proceedings relate must be regarded as the paramount consideration – Information vetoes need to be abolished. Keeping records secret is destructive to adoptees and not in the best interests of the child. Adoptees need identifying information. While we cannot speak for mothers, we have heard and genuinely believe mothers need to know what happened to their children. Too many innocent people are hurt by state sanctioned secrets.

adoption of a person over the age of 18 years

  • A young adult of 18 years who has not had satisfactory family relationships in childhood will always have a tension between wanting to be part of a loving family and the need for independence and freedom to form new adult relationships. This tension should not be resolved by binding Adoption Orders. Adoption has a bad history of disempowering adoptees. We would suggest a new name be found for a family that wants to form a relationship for young adults to join older adults as a family. It could be a relationship such as ‘defacto’ is to a marriage relationship. It has some legal recognition, but not the same as the inflexible act of adoption.


  • We have a member who was adopted as a 20year old adult; she was vulnerable in her needs because she had spent her whole life in an orphanage. Her mother was alive all the time she was in the orphanage. She was married and pregnant when she consented to the adoption. She regrets consenting to the adoption. She has come under some conditions she could not anticipate as a young adult and she finds she cannot change the conditions because she consented to them as an adult. Marriages can be discontinued legally, but adoptions apparently can not.
  • We do not agree with any form of adoption that severs the primary relationship of mother and child, whatever age the child. Adoption does not and cannot guarantee any particular future for anyone even though people assume some security in an adoption relationship. Adoption as it currently stands is about ownership and cannot guarantee security or an inheritance.

retention of the child’s birth names

  •  A child should retain its birth name unless it has never been known by that name. In a contested custody case, a Family Court counsellor once told me that a child’s name is basic to its identity, and I had to ask him to explain how that works for adoptees! You cannot argue that it is OK to change names without damage for some children but not for others. Your name ties you back into your identity. The only person who should be allowed to change the child’s name is the child. The child should not be bound by any adoption order to use a name it does not relate to.

same-sex couples and adoption and

single person adoption   

  • We consider it is not the sexuality or marital status of the adopters, it is the effects of inferring in the adoption process that the adoption experience will be normalised, that somehow love will be enough, that there are no effects of separating an infant from its mother.
  •  While we do not support surrogacy either, we are aware that many people are going overseas to arrange children through ‘surrogacy’. This appears to be a good option to some same sex couples and single people who, like other couples think they should have a child because they want one and can afford the fortune involved in surrogacy costs. The ‘commissioning parents’ consider the birth mother to be the surrogate, when in fact it is obvious they are the surrogates. But it seems these children are without any documentation and have no nationality and are in fact state-less. We assume ‘adoption’ laws will be needed to give these children some identifying information, even if it is false. In this case it is important not to discriminate on relationship types or status. A child born overseas for surrogate parents in Australia has already had too much disruption to be denied a simple solution to state-hood. While these children may not have a birth certificate, it is vital that birth and genetic information be recorded in the adoption records for the child to access when of age.
  • We do not support adoption, but we believe there should not be any discrimination between different relationship forms in any Acts of Parliament. If adoptions are to continue, the most suitable parents with a long term commitment to love, care and understand and not abuse the needs of adoptees should be selected regardless of their adult relationships.

discharge of adoption orders in certain circumstances.

  •  All adoption orders should be able to be discharged when the child becomes an adult, or earlier if the relationship is unsatisfactory for the child. This should not affect the ability of the child to make a claim on the estate of the adoptive family. It can never be the fault of the child that it turned out to be something the family did not want after all, or was unable to nurture satisfactorily. The child was never party to the contract.

 We would like to add another category for consideration:

 Original Birth Certificates. It seems obvious to us that a child can only have one birth certificate. The birth certificate should name the mother who gave birth, and the father, or sperm donor as appropriate. Modern technology is making life more complicated, and where eggs are obtained from other women, each person contributing material to the embryo should be named.

The child is not born again when it is adopted. There is no justification for issuing an amended birth certificate. A certificate of adoption would be appropriate for a person who is adopted. Falsified birth certificates were first issued to maintain the secrecy of adoption. Medical Science has moved on to the point where almost every person will sooner or later find their DNA does not match their adoptive parents. This can happen through any number of medical procedures such as the need for blood transfusions.

We have members who are ‘late discoverers’ of their adoption status. The shock of a late discovery causes a complete dissembling of identity, and for some people there is a breakdown and overwhelming depression – especially if they find that many people they trusted have known all their lives. Some have had ‘mad’ explanations of how they came into the family, to avoid discussions of adoption. Secrets are not in the interests of the child; nor are amended birth certificates. The best interests of the child are served by having the truth introduced as a story that can develop at a level appropriate to the child as it ages; not a story that gets changed as time goes by over a lifetime.

How to empower adoptees that have been disenfranchised.

Adoptees many of whom were removed from their families by State and Church intervention have continuing health and welfare costs. They should not have to pay for the mistaken judgments of people acting in ‘their best interests’. Adoptees need to be able to explore adoption issues by accessing competent services which are not part of the adoption industry. We believe we should be entitled to an ‘Adoptee Medical Health Card’ ensuring we do not have to continue paying for health services. Money that was allocated to Medicare by the Forced Adoption Apology process that was meant to fund such services was never made available to us, and we believe it disappeared into general revenue. It was also limited in the number of services available each year. Adoptees who have rejection, abandonment and lack of trust issues take quite a few sessions with an individual doctor or counsellor to begin to open up to the possibility of help being available from any particular person. Once trust is established the therapeutic relationship needs to continue as long as it is needed.

Currently the only service for adoptees in South Australia is provided through Relationships Australia and we have not found them to be satisfactory for our needs. They take the position of experts who know more about being adopted than we do, but they have never encouraged peer group interaction to learn from adoptees’ experiences. They have historically seen their role with adoptees as only needing help to link adoptees to their birth families, or to provide counselling around the failure to be able to make the links. They do not recognise the on-going trauma of separation at birth; the ongoing high levels of anxiety which began in the hormone soup before birth when our mothers were mistreated by medical authorities as retribution for their misdemeanors of becoming unwed mothers, or the disenfranchised loss which compounds with subsequent life losses; and they are unable to provide a sense of safety in their support group for people previously exposed to trauma. After I had 4 close friends (my ‘family’ of choice) die in a 12 month period, they thought I would be better served by being sent to Anglicare Loss and Grief Service. Anglicare had no idea how my enormous grief linked to my adoption status, even though Relationships Australia claimed to have trained Anglicare’s counsellors in adoption matters!. Many adoptees leave the services without trace and nobody follows up why they don’t return. After the National Apology there were a number of us who became more aware that our own needs were not recognized nor validated by anyone in Relationships Australia and we formed our own unfunded peer group, ‘IdentityRites’.

Some of us were recently in an unrelated group run by Relationships Australia with other parties to Adoption. The facilitator did not show any understanding of the issues of adoption. There was an adoptive mother of an overseas child. She described an incident where the child had been left alone long enough to do some damage to new household furnishings, which greatly upset her and her husband. I cringed as I remembered a similar incident in my childhood which ended any of my endeavors at creativity. The next week she told us she must be doing something right because at least her child sleeps right through the night. She said they had been advised to co-sleep with the child between them for security when first bringing her home to a foreign land. She and her husband agreed that was not going to happen and they put her in her own room and she has never disturbed them through the night. I could not say what I know. I could not tell her that I would never have disturbed my parents through the night either. I would stay in my bed where I was expected to be, with all the fears of rejection for company and depression immobilizing me. She told us they got it right because the co-sleepers had disturbed nights. I thought of the lucky children whose parents had listened to the experience of others and were able to offer their children comfort when they woke up at night scared and needing reassurance. I wanted to tell the woman – if she could not reassure her child at night, she should not leave her alone through the day and get upset when the child finds something to do with herself. But I didn’t. I let the woman tell us – she would not have adopted a child if she had known how much trouble it would be. We said – ‘but surely you were told’ and she said ‘yes – but I thought I was better than the others’. Who assesses the success of post adoption services? In whose best interests are adoptions continuing?

In conclusion:

Until research has been conducted on the lived experiences of adoptees, including all early deaths whatever the cause, including suicides, there can be no claims made about the success of adoption policy. Nor can it be said that adoption is in the best interests of the child, nor is it child-focussed. The best interests of the child are served by adequate pre-natal care and education and poverty alleviation so the parents are in a position with skills to care for their own children. Adoption privatises government responsibility and expense of foster-care for the child into life-long health and welfare expenses for the adult adoptee. Stop the abuse of foster-care children by media asking them if they would rather be adopted. Nobody asks them if they would rather their parents or extended families could access help to keep them.

Mature age adoptees should be included as a consultative group in all matters dealing with adoption. And provision needs to be made for an independent peer run support group who can represent and advocate for the rights of adoptees.

Sofie Gregory

on behalf of IdentityRites.

24 February 2015


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supplementary information to submission to Adoption Act Review


It has been brought to my attention that a position we took in our paper may be used to increase adoptions through surrogacy, and that was not our intention.  I would like to add further information.

This is in regards to the answer we gave under the point of same sex and single sex parents.   We included a paragraph about surrogacy, which we now believe should be treated separately to the Adoption Act.  What we said about same sex and single sex relations in paragraphs 1 and 2 remain our position.

In paragraph 3 we said ‘We assume ‘adoption’ laws will be needed to give these children some identifying information, even if it is false’ (pg.9 of our original submission). I now believe this assumption is wrong and shortsighted.

We do not support adoptions. Nor do we support surrogacy.

  • There is enough evidence of the damage done to babies by separating them from their mothers at the time of birth. This must not be allowed to continue.
  • There is also evidence from the Forced Adoption era that secrecy and false documentation does not allow an adoptee to construct their full identity.
  • There is also further evidence that people wishing to create families with other people’s children do not necessarily make good adoptive parents. Rickarby – a child psychiatrist suggested that in the best interests of the child the child should go to ‘proven’ parents – i.e. those who already have children. He describes the pathology he found in adoptive parents, and I have included an extract of an article of his together with the reference to the complete article.

We understand there is a lobby of gay parents wanting children they have commissioned through surrogacy arrangements to be legitimized through adoption. We know that surrogacy is not limited to same sex parents and includes heterosexuals, celebrity couples and single people with enough money – and an attachment to the market mechanism that encourages them to believe they can have whatever they can afford to buy. Some of these other groups may also be lobbying.

Our concern is that the children of these surrogate parents be able to get some form of legal identity as Australian citizens that does not deny their origins. However, to enable this through adoptions would be wrong. The surrogates have never been assessed as suitable adopters, and they admit they have acted illegally to procure babies.

Surrogacy should remain outside the Adoption Act. The commissioning parents should be referred to as the ‘surrogate parents’. The child will always have a gestational relationship with its birth mother and ancestral lines through its DNA. Perhaps there needs to be a ‘Surrogacy Act’ or ‘Children Trafficked via Surrogacy Citizenship Act’ to give legitimacy to the child’s identity, but not to the parents who have acted illegally and immorally considering evidence of the damage done by separating mothers and babies at birth, and the fact this is a modern form of slavery where rich people can exploit the use of the bodies of poor women.

Sofie Gregory


Submission by G.A.Rickarby MB BS FRANZCP Member.of the Faculty of Child Psychiatry RANZCP MANZAP Consultant Psychiatrist.

Point of View of this submission (as well, this section deals with an aspect of promotion of adoption used in taking of consents, and the sexual myths about mothers used during coercion to take consent)

The author graduated in medicine from Melbourne University in 1956. After commencing training in Psychiatry in London, I arrived in New South Wales in late 1971 to take up a position as Senior Medical Officer at Rydalmere Psychiatric Hospital in the first week. Of 1972 and, while in this position, to complete my training in Psychiatry in New South Wales where I became a Psychiatrist in 1974.

In 1976 I returned to practice Child Psychiatry as NSW Health Department’s Child Psychiatrist for Inner Western Suburbs of Sydney until I moved to Newcastle in 1978 for family reasons and took up the corresponding position there, still flying to Sydney one day a week to continue my Sydney responsibilities until I was able to be relieved in 1983.

I had a wider role in that I flew to Narooma monthly and later to Dubbo to conduct supervision and clinics. I was the first psychiatrist to be Consultant to The Adolescent Unit at Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children Camperdown.

In 1986 I became Child Psychiatrist for the Central Coast and was based at Gosford Hospital until 1989 when I went into semi retirement, still keeping Visiting Consultancies in Newcastle and Gosford. I am now in part-time Private Practice and sit on the Mental Health Review Tribunal where, because of an administrative change, I am again to be an employee of The New South Wales Health Department from 1st July this year.

I was sensitised to the problems of mothers who had lost babies to adoption early in my medical career when a young couple whose later children I delivered, spent much of their family resources (both money and emotions) searching for their first baby who had been adopted-out against their will during their teen years. Their grief was profound and drove their preoccupations and behaviour, particularly as they saved money for expensive private detectives who provided little help.

At Rydalmere I was concerned at the number of late adolescents and young adults who were requiring management for identity disorders and depression, and where there had been major dysfunction due to disturbances in an adoptive family.

In 1974 I was giving a lecture about preventable psychiatric morbidity to a large group of nurses about the possibility of using proven experienced parents as adoptive parents, when I received a hostile response. I was told that these babies were the “right” of those who could not have children of their own, and people who were not wholly behind this were a danger to the people who would never have another opportunity of having children.

From then on I took a much closer interest In the cultural prescriptions driving adoption practices in New South Wales, ironically at a stage when it was undergoing radical change due to the social renaissance that occurred after 1972.

Taking the Child Psychiatry role for the Inner Western Suburbs of Sydney Burwood, Strathfield, Drummoyne, Ashfield and Croydon in 1976, l was to find that adoptive families were a frequent source of referal. (I put the issue in here as it is pivotal to one illegal practice in the taking of consents of birth parents: that is to idealize adoptive families as necessary and desirable for babies, and to use such images repetitively in promoting adoption to the potential provider of the baby).

The long line of mentally ill, substance addicted, maritally divided couples (over both adoption and other issues), who hadn’t grieved their own or their mates sterility whom I saw in trouble during child rearing crises when they didn’t have the resources or will to see them through, disabused me of this notion very quickly. My colleagues and I wrote about this after waiting to take a future sample: Adoptive Families in Distress. (the heavily edited version).

I looked around at the adoptive families I knew socially, and there were similar themes occurring there too, partly because the adoptive family had no training in dealing with the inevitable identity disorder of the adoptive child, because, once the adoption was confirmed, they were left to do whatever they would, with no help or guidance about the special difficulties. The cultural myth was that it would be “just like having your own children”.

Adoptive parents were given misinformation, in that there was a cultural expectation that the baby would match the family because of a skilled selection of babies, and that affluence and religion based upbringing would override other difficulties.

Adoptive parents were given no help with hard testing behaviours in primary school age, with temperamental issues that might have been expected in the biological family, or differences in style of thinking and problem solving that were inate. They were not helped with their own grief, or their deeper feelings about bringing up somebody else’s child except for the myths around the “abandoning” mother implying to the child that he or she was was much better off with them.

Overall I have seen more adoptive parents for this variety of help than I have seen relinquishing mothers.

So not only were the young mothers subject to promotion of adoption, but the promotion was in a large number of instances an outright lie, and when there were capable people adopting, they had to deal with a child different in temperament and cognitive style from themselves through an intense identity crisis, not to mention the early damage to a baby who is born into a vacuum figuratively speaking, as there is no mother to hold and suckle, her noises have gone suddenly and there is no breast smell on which to imprint – many consider this separation as primarily damaging.

When, as well as the inherent misfit, the adoption was associated with frank psychiatric illness in the adoptive family at the time of adoption, or later sexual abuse, it was difficult for Child Health professionals not to become both distressed and angry. Once the Department of Community Services signed them off and The Department of Health was distracted from other duties caring for them.

The author wrote Family Psychiatry and the Selection of Adoptive Parents published in the Australian Journal of Social Work and it was used widely, but it was closing the gate after the horses. The Dept of Community Services (about 198O) started using me when they thought that refusals of adoptive parents might be challenged in Court (they hadn’t succeeded in stopping anybody determined before that). I was prepared to give evidence for them.

The people I met were mostly frankly mentally ill. (I heard the argument that the mentally ill, should not be discriminated against as far as adopting children was concerned)

It is important to discuss, at this stage another myth that was used cruelly against original mothers. In 1997 I was disgusted to hear it still promulgated on a television show by a social worker who had worked in Crown St Hospital during the single mother’s holocaust from 1966 to about 1973.

What she said was that the young mother could not readily go to Court to seek support from the father because a man taken there would have half a dozen others to say it could be them just as easily, or words to that effect. This was the myth that the young woman was prematurely sexualised, promiscuous and irresponsible. This myth was widespread and a source of creating a bad role for the pregnant single girl, particularly the teenager.

Having seen a large number of relinquishing mothers by the nineties, there were many instances of first intercourse, (some of it rape), some of seminal spills in the vulva, but most numerous were those of the first boy friend and profound ignorance about sex and contraception.

On the other hand the statistics will show that there was a virtual epidemic of sterility due to what was called Non-specific oophorosalpingitis (inflamation of the tubes and ovaries – and by non-specific they meant it wasn’t due to gonorrhoea or syphilis but was later found to be due to the Chlamydia organism spread venereally. The use of high dosage contraceptive pills (the original ones used in the sixties and early seventies) were also a significant cause of sterility when premature menopause occurred.

The tragedy for the original mothers was that they were younger, and this false myth about their sexuality used by those who wished to take their consent, was to render them more powerless, guilty or shamed, and as a frank lever to humiliate them. Their seeking secrecy for their sexual involvement made consent taking easier.

It is important that this section is not seen as an excuse for the flagrant flaunting of the 1965 Act by the behaviour and decisions of those empowered in institutions of public trust, or of cruel and unethical behaviour of Dickensian proportions visited upon young women in helpless circumstances.

Inability to have Children

As already indicated, there were particulars leading to a large number of couples who were unable to have children. Effects of early contraceptives and Chlamydia infections have been already mentioned. The public were not as ready to come forward to have any venereal infection treated, ectopic pregnancy was common, and there was an extraordinary rate of premature hystorectomy performed in Australia that astounded medical statisticians in other countries.

There were some causes in males such as infective disease of the genital tract which caused male sterility, again the the public would shun treatment, however there was little that could be done about mumps orchitis in childhood or adolescence. There were many instances where nothing could be found or where there were low sperm counts of unknown cause.

In the front line in managing adoptive families however, child psychiatry clinicians were aware of many couples who had marital and sexual difficulties, who led oppositional and divergent lives where the intercourse frequency was very low or absent. This type of ailing marriage where the couple were bound together in a hostile insecure situation is not to be confused with the unconsummated marriage which was also encountered. Here the couple often had a strong loving bond, but had difficulties related to having intercourse so well described in Michael Balint’s book Virgin Wives.

The Difference in Social Power

The group of people who wanted babies (other women’s) contained a large proportion from the middle class, as a result of both being employed, having property and other assets, as well as social affiliations and status.

In this culture respectability was highly valued. In dealing with adoption agencies after 1965, these couples often related to the agency with a strong public display of praise and gratitude, and the agencies would have photographs of happy adoptive families with cards, and a sense that they had personal ties with many adoptive families as a result.

Many agencies such as the Catholic hostel for unmarried mothers at Waitara had specially selected adoptive parents come to talk to the mothers about the benefits of adoption. Many such families adopted two to four children.

The relationship had a personal element to them and there was a sense of reciprocity experienced by the workers in agencies, antenatal hostels and maternity hospitals. The overall myth promulgated was “Isn’t it wonderful we can find such loving homes for the unwanted babies”. For those with an angry adolescent adoptee in psychotherapy, this was black humor indeed.

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Which tree is me?


There are faces hiding lower down in this one.  It is fractured and changed for ever with sides that no longer match.  Sap, the lifeblood of the tree has wept into the fracture-line.


Comfort.   The empty arms of a mother.  There’s a place to rest enfolded by roots that might be mine?  I have to find my own roots in the trees, wherever they are exposed.


The wound of separation still weeps.2009_040108novtrees0089

And I know the hollowness of separation and the aloneness of remaining where felled.


And the search goes on.  Fantasy has me asking if this is my soft uncomplicated mother reclining at leisure, smoothly adjusted to life without her child?


Reality says mothers feel like this one with arms that don’t enfold and blunted breasts that don’t feed?  An adoptive mother unresolved in her own grief of childlessness; a birth mother damaged by the brutality of a world that took her child.


All trees bear the scars of life, even when they die.  Some branches grow strong, and others are constricted, forked and gnarled.


Somehow we contain the hard knocks and go on.  Predators predate and wounds deform.


Life is derived from roots in earth and branches in the sky, sun that shines and rain that falls, and a little bit of the magic of transformation.

There is no one tree for an adoptee.  Just possibility.  In imagination.



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